place some time in the future." They had even "developed scenarios that turned out to project almost exactly what happened there.” Indeed the scenarios pinpointed the city streets that would suffer the greatest damage and loss of life.
But this knowledge, he said, was kept within a small cadre of experts and not shared with the larger population. “People in New Orleans,” he observed, “didn’t know how vulnerable they were.” What good is scientific information, he asked, if it cannot be put to use to save lives and protect property?
As a result of this experience, USGS now wants to ensure that critical information concerning risk does not remain closeted among experts. Instead, it wants to widely share this information with policy makers and the public. “What we had in New Orleans,” Werkheiser stressed, “was a communications, not scientific, problem.” And, he and his agency do not want poor communications to obscure good science in the future.
Denise Stephenson Hawk, an environmental and educational consultant and Chairperson of the Atlanta-based Stephenson Group, concurred with Werkheiser, in noting that “we need to make sure that scientific data and information are used by the people” to help them make informed decisions on critical issues.
She added that data and information, particularly information that can help break down the disciplinary silos that have characterized and constrained problem-solving research (especially in universities and government agencies), must drive research efforts in the future. Scientific data, she observed, also is essential for establishing baselines against which changes in resource use can be measured over time. The gathering of data is essential, Stephenson Hawk noted. Nevertheless, like Werkheiser, she emphasized that science-based sustainable development will ultimately depend on moving scientific data and information beyond scientific circles to the larger policy community and lay public.